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Brexit: EU officials left 'flabbergasted' as UK mandarins pull apart divorce bill

Mark Dorman
European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, and British counterpart David Davis appear to be struggling to find a way forward (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Europe’s Brexit negotiating team are said to have been left “flabbergasted” at the UK’s increasingly hostile stance over the so-called divorce bill.

According to sources, EU officials sat dumbstruck as their British counterparts spent three hours pulling apart, line by line, the demands for a settlement, said to be anywhere between €75bn and €100bn.

While various Eurosceptic MPs have been vocal in dismissing talk that the UK should pay anything to leave the bloc, Brexit secretary David Davis has openly acknowledged there is likely to be some kind of “obligation”.

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However, as the latest round of talks ended without progress, this appears to be the first time any Whitehall official has openly addressed the issue around the negotiating table.

“There was total amazement,” the EU source told The Telegraph, “Everyone was completely flabbergasted that this young man from Whitehall was saying that the EU’s preparation on the financial settlement was ‘inadequate’. It did not go down well.”


It is understood the analysis took more than three hours. The British team believes the EU is trying to grab more money than it is legally entitled to.

Specifically, the UK is contesting assertions it should be made to pay into the EU budget until 2020 – while Europe maintains that is most definitely the case as David Cameron committed to the seven-year budget as prime minister in 2013.

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“The UK has made it clear that it finds the EU position paper on the money unsatisfactory and nobody would sign a cheque on the basis of the commission’s paper,” another source told The Guardian.

“It is also clear that they have an issue with the current view around town that ‘serious’ means agreeing with the commission. The UK doesn’t agree with it.”

The butting of heads came before Europe’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier,  admitted they had again failed to get past the impasse.

At a joint press conference with David Davis, Barnier said there has been “no decisive progress” and that were still “quite far” away from being in a position to begin talks on future trade arrangements.

Barnier has again been super critical of the UK’s “position documents” – described by his European Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker as “unsatisfactory”.

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The issues of the divorce bill, and that of citizenship and the border in Ireland, have to be resolved, says the EU, before any trade talks can begin in detail.

 

Davis, meanwhile, told the press conference: “As I said at the start of the week, it’s only through flexibility and imagination that we will achieve a deal that works truly for both sides.

“In some areas we have found this from the [European] Commission’s side, which I welcome, but there remains some way to go.”